What are your routines to stay fit and healthy? Is it a walk or run, maybe hitting the gym once in a while? You may have a variety of activities up your sleeve.
But what about your mind? Yes, we do need to keep paying attention to our bodies, but our minds are also very important. Did you know that our brain is pretty similar and needs exercises to stay fit?
There are some brain flexing activities you’ve probably heard before – sudoku and crosswords are supposed to increase your brain activity. And while these brain-teasers are great, there is more to it than a quick puzzle.
So, let’s dive into it!
In order to “train” your brain and stimulate it in the right way, the activities need to be novel and complex. Let’s take a look at our daily lives and the fixed routines we tend to create. For our brain, more routine means less decision making. Especially in the digital era, our lives are over saturated with information and short term, easily accessible stimulus.
Bernard Croislle, M.D. Neurology, PhD Neuropsychology, states that our minds consist of five main cognitive functions:
He also says, “It’s important to challenge, stimulate and effectively exercise all five areas to stay mentally sharp as our brain ages.” He has created a platform; Happy Neuron for training these cognitive functions on a daily basis – there’s a free week’s trial when you sign up (and who doesn’t love something for free!)
We delved a little deeper into each of the five cognitive functions to see what more we could do.
Memory is very crucial in all the cognitive activities, including reading and reasoning. Bernard says that to maintain a good memory, it needs to be trained, but it’s easier than most of us might think. He suggests listening to music and memorising the lyrics. Some other interesting ideas that we’ve found are getting dressed in the dark or brushing your teeth with the opposite hand.
Deane Alban gives some other interesting ideas in his blog post, like doing chores with your eyes closed. These could be as simple as taking a shower, washing your hair or sorting laundry. Just be careful with these – we don’t want any accidents!
Exercises like these help to build new pathways and associations between neural connections and boost the levels of the brain builder and memory chemical – acetylcholine.
Another interesting thing to try is doing things backwards or upside down. An easy thing to practice is wearing your watch upside down or trying to write something backwards.
In order to complete daily tasks, we need attention. It enables us to maintain concentration despite all the distractions around us. One might think that you can make your attention better by sticking to your routine, but actually, the opposite is true. As Bernard says: “ We can improve our attention by simply changing our routines… it will force your brain to wake up from habits and pay attention again”.
So how can we put that in practice?
Simple changes such as changing your route to work or changing the order of things at home can ignite the attention span. Also, a very beneficial thing could be turning off technology. You have probably already heard that “scrolling” through the feed keeps your attention span pretty short as it is designed to catch your attention in a very short time. but with the love of all things social media, these days giving it up is harder than we might think! We suggest cutting down on your screen time to start with and increase from there.
And surprise, surprise, meditation brings your attention together and lets you keep better focus. You can read more about the benefits of meditation on our past blog post here.
If you’ve ever learned a foreign language, you’ve probably experienced the “information overload”; this can also be felt when you’re solving and a very complicated math problem or trying to remember a long number that you’ve seen just once or twice.
Language activities will challenge the ability to recognise, remember and understand words. But what if learning a new language is a bit too much for you?
You can also try reading some in-depth articles that are in a field you are not familiar with.
You can boost your visual-spatial cognitive function with a pretty simple exercise as well. Try remembering 5 items in a room and recalling their colour, shape and location after a few hours of being away from that room. If you do this activity regularly, your skills are sure to improve!
It is harder to give certain examples of how to work on the executive function, but generally speaking, they are decisions that are made based on logic and reasoning skills. They are activities where you must have a defined strategy to reach a desired outcome and also have all the steps clear in the most efficient way. These activities could be something like social interactions and even video games.
There are so many ways to give your brain a good workout – and many are easily incorporated into our daily lives (they are even easier than getting yourself to the gym for a sweat session!)
We suggest starting with small changes to your routine and enhancing your brain workouts from there. And if you’re in need of some exercises for the body too, read our past blog post here.
So, now you have all the tools you need to flex your mental muscles!